Featuring all sorts of captivating creatures, a handful of images are vying to earn the affection of the public—and with it, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.
From an initial pool of 38,575 images, just 25 were chosen for the shortlist for this competition, run by the Natural History Museum in London. Anyone can vote for their favorite until 9 a.m. Eastern time on February 2, and the museum will announce the winner on February 9.
The selected entries are intended to be more than attractive pictures—they’re meant to speak volumes. Some demonstrate a predator-prey relationship, while others show conflict or cooperation. Several images spotlight negative effects that humans have had on wildlife.
As a whole, the photographs “tell vital stories and connect people to issues across the planet,” says Douglas Gurr, director of London’s Natural History Museum, in a statement.
They do not shy away from tackling Covid-19 waste, complex relationships between humans and animals or the impact of domestic cats on ecosystems. But at the same time, the collection showcases the Earth’s biodiversity through stunning portraits and rare perspectives on wildlife.
Here are the 25 beautiful and startling images selected for this year’s shortlist.
A golden huddle, Minqiang Lu
Golden snub-nosed monkeys face habitat loss through the destruction and fragmentation of forests. Now endangered, they live only in central China.
Photographer Minqiang Lu knew a spot in the Qinling Mountains where a troop of these monkeys frequently rested. To approach the area, he traipsed through the snow with his camera gear for nearly an hour and waited another thirty minutes to capture this shot. In it, three golden snub-nosed monkeys huddle together against the cold.
When Lu clicked the shutter, the temperature was approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
A tight grip, Nicholas More
Though it may not be evident from this creature’s imposing appearance, Barbigant’s seahorses grow only one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch long. The male in this photo is gripping onto a pink sea fan—and he is very pregnant. These animals gestate for about two weeks before giving birth to even smaller, live young.
Nicholas More, a photographer from the United Kingdom, found this seahorse with the help of a guide who directed him to the animals off the coast of Bali.
The image reveals how well a Barbigant’s seahorse can mimic the colors and texture of the host it’s holding onto—this one’s red bumps resemble the pink sea fan.
That’s the spot!, Richard Flack
This pair of crested guineafowl had been foraging with their flock in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, when one of them began to scratch the other’s head and ear. That bird opened its mouth and eyes wide, standing still for a few moments.
“It’s not often you get to capture emotion in the faces of birds,” South African photographer Richard Flack says in a statement. “But there was no doubt—that was one satisfied guineafowl.”
Fishing for glass eels, Eladio Fernandez
Due to hunting to satiate a strong culinary demand, the American eel is endangered. They are captured during their juvenile stage when they’re known as glass eels, a reference to their transparent appearance.
Over the five-month eel-hunting season, hundreds of fishers gather at estuaries along the Dominican Republic’s coast to catch these creatures. In the United States, such hunting is regulated, but it’s uncontrolled in the Caribbean.
Here, Dominican photographer Eladio Fernandez depicts a group of fishermen in the country’s El Limon River with a long-exposure photograph. It took several nights of visiting the river for Fernandez to get this shot with the fishermen’s nets raised high.
The elusive golden cat, Sebastian Kennerknecht
The African golden cat is one of the world’s least-known members of the cat family. They are Africa’s only forest-dwelling wild cat, and the species has lost nearly half of its historic range. About twice the size of a house cat, golden cats are vulnerable to hunting by snaring.
American photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht and his friend David Mills, a biologist, set up a camera trap in Uganda’s Kibale National Park. With it, they captured this photo of the elusive feline prowling at night.
Snowshoe hare stare, Deena Sveinsson
Sometimes, photographers put in long hours in harsh weather conditions just to come home nearly empty-handed. For American photographer Deena Sveinsson, a snowshoeing venture into the forests of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park was shaping up to be one of those days.
But as she got ready to leave, she noticed a snowshoe hare sitting on a small mound of snow. Preparing her camera, Sveinsson waited for the hare to look toward her lens to capture this photo of the creature with its ears alert, staring right at her.
Holding on, Igor Altuna
In South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, Spanish photographer Igor Altuna watched this leopard and its cub. The female leopard carried this monkey it had killed, but the monkey’s baby was still clinging to its mother. The leopard cub play-hunted the baby monkey for more than an hour before ultimately killing it, getting a lesson in hunting.
Fox affection, Brittany Crossman
Against the backdrop of snow, this red fox greeting—a gentle nuzzle—was captured on camera by Canadian photographer Brittany Crossman. For these foxes, mating season is in the winter, and they are getting ready to den and raise young.
This is one of the most tender moments between foxes that Crossman has ever seen, per a statement.
Life and art, Eduardo Blanco Mendizabal
Life and art stare each other in the face in this portrait by Spanish photographer Eduardo Blanco Mendizabal. In his hometown of Corella in Navarre, he found this cat painted on a wall. He came back to this spot on a hot summer night and waited, expecting common wall geckos to come out and crawl along the painted surface looking for mosquitoes or other prey.
Blanco Mendizabal watched for the right moment and snapped this photo when a gecko looked about to be consumed by the cat.
Night encounter, Sami Vartiainen
Finnish photographer Sami Vartiainen captured this photo late on an August evening, perched just 23 feet away from his badger subject. They both remained there for 45 minutes, the badger lying on the ground, scratching, walking and sniffing the air. Sometimes, the mammal went into its sett, or its den, until it padded off in search of food under cover of darkness.
Caribbean crèche, Claudio Contreras Koob
When flamingo chicks leave the nest, they join groups called crèches, which are essentially daycare centers for the birds: A few adults watch over large numbers of chicks for the colony.
At Mexico’s Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, some of these gray chicks approached Mexican photographer Claudio Contreras Koob, who was lying in the mud nearby. But in a protective gesture, the pink adults then rounded up the chicks and shepherded them back to the safety of the colony.
Flamingo populations are stable, but they’re very sensitive to environmental changes. As a result, scientists are unsure how the iconic birds will fare with climate change, since their nesting sites are vulnerable to both floods and dry conditions.
Covid litter, Auke-Florian Hiemstra
Citizen scientists cleaning a canal in Leiden, Netherlands, came across this young perch that had been killed by a surgical glove. It had gotten trapped in the thumb, and the spines on its back prevented it from reversing out of its predicament. This case inspired scientists to start a study documenting the extent of creatures impacted by Covid-19 waste, such as gloves and face masks.
“The photo confronts us with our throw-away society,” Dutch photographer Auke-Florian Hiemstra told CNN’s Jack Guy in November. “Humanity is addicted to plastic, but animals have to face the consequences … Hopefully, the image makes people think about their own behavior.”
Heads or tails?, Jodi Frediani
Three northern right whale dolphins play in the waves in this photo. The two dark gray heads of adults are at the rear, trailing the silvery tail of a juvenile. These dolphins have no dorsal fins on their backs, and their beaks are shorter and more pointed than most.
American photographer Jodi Frediani had been on a boat with her camera in Monterey Bay, California, trying to photograph some of these marine mammals. A stranger gave up her own place at the front of the boat, where dolphins were riding the waves, to let Frediani have a better angle for this shot.
The frog with the ruby eyes, Jaime Culebras
Endangered Mindo glass frogs are confined only to the Río Manduriacu Reserve in northwestern Ecuador, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Mining and logging have led to habitat loss, threatening these small amphibians.
This female frog was surrounded by the calls of males in the forest. Spanish photographer Jaime Culebras moved close to the creature, setting up his camera, tripod and flashes near its leaf. The frog’s “ruby” eyes captivated Culebras, per a statement.
World of the snow leopard, Sascha Fonseca
Snow leopards are among the most difficult-to-photograph big cats—their stealth conceals them, and their remote environment makes the animals hard to access. German photographer Sascha Fonseca captured this image as part of a three-year camera trap project, and—rejecting a practice that some wildlife photographers consider unethical—he never used bait to draw animals to the lens.
Here, his subject looks out over the snowy mountains in Ladakh, India, beneath a colorful sky.
A fox’s tale, Simon Withyman
A fox trots down steps at night, with visible injuries. In Bristol, U.K., the animal had gotten caught in a plastic barrier at a construction site. While trying to free herself, she became wounded and got some of the fence parts embedded in her side.
With her ability to hunt compromised, the fox might have struggled to find food. But local residents started putting pieces of meat outside for the animal to take. In this picture, she carries a chicken leg. Authorities caught and treated the fox after five months.
In this photo, Simon Withyman, a U.K.-based photographer, wanted to demonstrate humans’ impact on wildlife, even if the damage is unintentional.
Portrait of Olobor, Marina Cano
Olobor, an African lion, is one of five males that have formed a famous coalition in the Black Rock pride, located in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Though it looks like night in this image, Olobor is actually captured during a mid-afternoon rest.
The dark background comes from a scorched landscape—local Maasai herdsmen had burned the ground to promote new grass growth. Spanish photographer Marina Cano lowered her camera out of her vehicle to achieve the striking angle in this portrait.
Hyena highway, Sam Rowley
This spotted hyena is the lowest-ranking member of the Highway Clan, an urban group in Harar, Ethiopia. These opportunistic creatures scavenge what humans abandon outside, from rotting meat to bones. Sometimes, people leave them scraps of meat on purpose, a nod to the animals’ role in preventing disease by cleaning the city.
U.K.-based photographer Sam Rowley used a remote camera positioned near roadkill to get this close-up shot. In the distance, other clan members are visible leaving the scene.
A tight grip, Nicholas More
In this shed in the Andes Mountains, a stuffed cat skin hangs above disused objects. Locals celebrate Andean cats as guardians of the mountains. They are also considered good luck for making livestock fertile, so the animals are sometimes killed and worn in ceremonies.
American photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht captured this image, depicting the most endangered wild cat in South America.
Red and yellow, Chloé Bès
Glaucous-winged gulls flock by the hundreds to Rausu port on Hokkaido Island, Japan. But French photographer Chloé Bès focused on just one of them, capturing its beak and eye as flying gulls made loud calls overhead.
The red spot that stands out on the gull’s beak is more than decorative: It reflects the animal’s health and is a visual aid for chicks. Young gulls peck at this spot to get fed by the parent.
Wasp attack, Roberto García-Roa
This pompilid wasp and Ctenus spider had been locked in a battle, but all of a sudden, their struggle came to a halt as Spanish photographer Roberto García-Roa watched. At last, the wasp’s sting had paralyzed the arachnid, and it took a step back to make sure its work was complete. Then, the wasp dragged the spider to its nest.
Coastline wolf, Bertie Gregory
Photographer Bertie Gregory of the U.K. was moving through the waters along the shore of Vancouver Island, Canada, when he spotted this lone female gray wolf. Though he was looking for black bears, Gregory traveled a wide loop to land at a spot down the shore where he expected the wolf to go.
On land, he set up a remote camera, then he retreated back into his boat and moved away. Using a remote trigger, Gregory snapped this shot as the wolf passed in front of the camera, surrounded by eelgrass all over the mudflat.
Head to head, Miquel Angel Artús Illana
Spanish photographer Miquel Angel Artús Illana followed a family of muskoxen for four days in Norway’s Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park. After tracking the male, female and their three calves, he noticed another family of the large hooved mammals had appeared.
On that September day, the females were in heat, so he expected the two males to fight. But the adult female from each family engaged in a short, intense fight that he immortalized in a photo.
Caught by the cat, Michał Michlewicz
Using a trail cam, Polish photographer Michał Michlewicz observed that this abandoned barn had attracted the attention of several animals. He noticed wild mammals including a badger, a fox and a marten use the shelter, but he also picked up lots of cats in the area.
He visited the barn in western Poland and set up a camera trap inside, facing the animals’ entrance. This domestic cat triggered the shutter as it walked into the barn carrying a common chaffinch it had killed.
The image is meant to be a reminder of how domestic cats can impact wildlife—especially birds—when let outside into an ecosystem, per a statement.
Among the flowers, Martin Gregus
Canadian photographer Martin Gregus watched a polar bear cub playing among a large swath of the purple-hued blooms of fireweed in Churchill, Canada.
Gregus placed the camera at ground-level “to capture the world from the cub’s angle,” according to a statement. He sat a safe distance away with a remote trigger, trying to discern the right time to snap a shot from his imperfect vantage point. In the image, the cub is standing on its hind legs to look above the blossoms for its mother.